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Danielle Owen-Jones on Author Branding and Working with an Agent

Author Danielle Owen-Jones has written for Jericho Writers on a range of topics, from literary devices to anti-heroes. Now, we\'re proud to see her first novel \'Stone Broke Heiress\' published by Bookouture, an imprint of Hachette. We chatted to her about working with her literary agent and how to build your author brand. My debut novel, \'Stone Broke Heiress\', is a romantic comedy set in Liverpool. My agent, Clare Coombes of The Liverpool Literary Agency, came up with the brilliant idea to set the book in Toxteth. The location is an interesting hook for the story because Clare and I believe it’s the first rom com set in the Toxteth area of the city. Clare was one of the literary agents who requested my full manuscript when I was querying. After she read the book and offered representation, one of her suggestions was to change the setting from London to Liverpool. The minute Clare suggested it, I was sold on the idea. Looking back, I’m not sure why I set the book in London – a place I adore, but somewhere I don’t know well. Liverpool, however, I know very well. I grew up in a seaside town half an hour away, and my family are proud scousers. While discussing the location change, Clare and I agreed this would give the book an interesting angle for publishers and would be its USP in the busy and competitive rom com market. It turned out that the new Toxteth location transformed the book; the different setting affected every aspect of the story. Most importantly, the more I wrote about the city I loved and knew so well, the more the ideas flowed, and the story grew stronger. I hoped I was painting a picture of the location through the pages. It was important to me to capture the spirit of Liverpool and fly the flag for it – to represent the city in the right way. The more I wrote about the city I loved and knew so well, the more the ideas flowed, and the story grew stronger. After enthusiastically editing the new setting of the book and revising the draft to include Clare’s other brilliant ideas, we went out on submission to publishers. I sympathise with every writer going through the submission process. It’s nerve-wracking enough when you’re querying literary agents. Then, after you’ve signed with an agent, it feels like you do it all over again. (Though your book being pitched to publishers is probably even more stressful – if that’s possible!) It’s torture waiting to hear if you’re going to get a book deal. I was refreshing my emails every thirty seconds, but I knew I could trust Clare and her passion for the book. All I could do was hope that a commissioning editor would feel the same way! Luckily, one did – Emily Gowers at Bookouture. I was blown away by her enthusiasm for the book. She completely ‘got’ it – both the story and me as an author. What more could you want from an editor? Clare and I talked through the options, but we were both immediately impressed by Bookouture’s pitch, together with Emily’s passion and vision. So, I excitedly signed a two-book deal! It was one of the most surreal and incredible days of my life – and for a while, it felt like I was dreaming. Even now, I’m still not entirely sure it’s sunk in. I knew I could trust Clare and her passion for the book. All I could do was hope that a commissioning editor would feel the same way! Since signing my publishing contract, my writing life has been a whirlwind. Like many authors, I juggle my day job with writing my books. However, I’m fortunate that my work is flexible, as I work for myself. It’s meant plenty of early mornings, late nights, and weekends spent writing or editing. But it doesn’t really feel like work because, as cheesy as it sounds, this is all a dream come true for me. A plus point of my job as a freelance PR consultant and content writer is applying the skills I use with my clients to myself when building my author brand through marketing. The best tip I can give to authors when doing this is to show the person behind the books. Nobody likes a hard sell or a constant, repetitive message of ‘buy my books!’ So, let your audience in and show them who you are as a person and a writer. What inspires you? What’s your writing process? Which books do you adore? What do you love doing at the weekend? In terms of social media, it can sometimes feel overwhelming trying to juggle everything. So rather than trying to be active on all the various platforms, instead focus on those you genuinely enjoy. A significant part of the entire writing and publishing process is the people you meet along the way. I feel so lucky to have met an amazing and talented group of writers throughout my experience as a debut author. I’ve made friends for life, and it makes the whole process so much easier when you have the genuine support of people who understand what you’re going through on the rollercoaster ride that is publishing. In terms of social media, it can sometimes feel overwhelming trying to juggle everything. So rather than trying to be active on all the various platforms, instead focus on those you genuinely enjoy. Another aspect where that important support from the writing community (and of course, friends and family), plays a major role is when dealing with rejections. They are hard. Incredibly hard. However, something I’ve learnt along the way is that rejection is unavoidable as an author. You have to take the highs (signing with an agent, a publishing deal, glowing reviews) with the lows (rejections from agents, publishers and even readers). Rejection is part of being an author because writing and storytelling are naturally subjective. However, a rejection typically isn’t personal. For example, when querying literary agents, there are so many elements involved in a ‘thanks but no thanks’ (e.g. an agent’s existing list of clients, genre preferences, future publishing trends, their relationships with editors in your book’s genre etc.) It’s human nature that rejection can be hard to stomach, but I’ve found that the more you experience it and get used to it, the easier it is to handle. You learn how to pick yourself up and try again. I remember feeling devastated at my first few literary agent and publisher rejections. But if it’s your dream to be an author, you can’t give up; you have to keep going. From Clare Coombes, Danielle\'s literary agent (The Liverpool Literary Agency): “From the first read, I knew this book was special. There was a lot of interest but I\'m so happy we\'ve found the perfect home for it at Bookouture. Danielle has such an amazing writing style and comic timing. Readers are going to love Arabella\'s journey of self-discovery (and the world of soup, which is such a hilarious and unique framing for this whole story).   For our first women\'s fiction signing and book deal in this genre to be set in Liverpool (and the first romcom we know of based in the Toxteth part of the city), is just incredible and we\'re so proud of Danielle.\"  About Danielle Owen-Jones Danielle Owen-Jones is the debut author of the romantic comedy \'Stone Broke Heiress\'. Danielle started her career as a senior journalist and features writer before launching a PR business, and later signing a two-book deal with Bookouture, an imprint of Hachette UK. \'Stone Broke Heiress\' is now available on Amazon UK and Amazon US. Find out more about Danielle on her website and follow her on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and Facebook.

From First Publication to Second – What I’ve Learned, by Sarah Linley

We last heard from Sarah Linley when she told us all about her journey to publication for her debut, The Trip. Now, her second novel is about to be published by One More Chapter (the digital imprint of Harper Collins). We caught up with Sarah two years later to find out how things have been since the publication of her debut, and what she\'s learned. JW: We last spoke to you ahead of the publication of your first novel, ‘The Beach’ (subsequently retitled ‘The Trip’). Now, two years on, your second novel publishes next month. In what ways did the process for the second book feel different?   SL: I think I had more confidence going into the process of writing and publishing my second book. I knew more about the craft – structure, plot, characters, theme – and I had more experience of the editorial process, so I knew what my flaws were (weak characterisation and overuse of the word ‘just’ being two of them!).   The Wedding Murders is classic crime meets psychological thriller. Libby is a plus-one at a celebrity wedding in a grand manor house in the Yorkshire Dales. She’s the guest of her boyfriend Matthew, who used to be in a pop band in the 90s. It’s the first time the old friends have got together since they split up and Libby soon realises that they have secrets to hide…  Having someone on my side, championing my work, made me feel much less alone in the process. I really enjoyed writing The Wedding Murders and the research was a lot of fun. This time around, I found it less daunting to approach experts and ask them questions, and I had a much better understanding of story structure which helped because this novel is set over a tight timeline.   That said, the second book produced some curveballs. Not least having to rewrite the first chapter about twenty times because I couldn’t find a good way to start the story, which hadn’t been an issue with The Trip. Writing my debut, I didn’t understand the importance of book bloggers and I had never heard of NetGalley. Engaging with readers has been one of the best things about being published, and that was a surprise, as I was quite scared of that aspect before I was published.   I also thought I would be less nervous as publication day for book two approaches. I’m not!  JW: You navigated your first book deal alone but had an agent for the second. How did the two experiences compare, and would you recommend finding an agent before approaching publishers?  SL: Having someone on my side, championing my work, made me feel much less alone in the process. I am represented by Camilla Shestopal and she is absolutely lovely. One of the reasons I enjoy working with her is that she really cares about my writing. She speaks about my characters as if they’re real people, and I thought only I would feel that way about them!   Camilla did a lot of editorial work with me before we submitted the book which meant it was in much better shape and that made the structural edits easier.   Negotiating a book deal on my own wasn’t my first choice. I couldn’t get an agent interested in my debut, despite around 30 submissions, so I decided to go it alone because I really believed in the book.  Digital-first publishers are happy to work with unrepresented authors and I found the process quite straightforward. I read two great books by Harry Bingham and Rhoda Baxter and my friend is also a lawyer which helped. Once you have a book deal, you can join the Society of Authors and they will look over contracts for you.   Having an agent is great but not essential. They are inundated with submissions so it can be quite difficult to stand out among their huge slushpiles.   If you feel that having an agent would be helpful, I recommend trying this route first, and giving it a real chance (i.e. 20-30 submissions, not a handful), but don’t be afraid to represent yourself. Arm yourself with knowledge about the industry, ask a lot of questions, and have confidence in your writing.   JW: What kinds of resources have you found useful throughout your writing journey? SL: Jericho Writers is a great resource for writers. You can learn everything about the writing and editing process, approaching agents, self-publishing and marketing your work - but one of the best things is meeting other writers that are on this journey with you.   Don’t be afraid to represent yourself. Arm yourself with knowledge about the industry, ask a lot of questions, and have confidence in your writing. I have been involved with Jericho Writers since I was shortlisted for the Friday Night Live competition in 2014. The Festival of Writing in York was always such a great social event as well as a chance to learn, so I was apprehensive when it moved online due to lockdown. However, I have found the digital festival even better in some ways. Being able to watch the videos on replay meant I could pace myself a bit more and attend more sessions. I do miss the social aspect though.   I completed Debi Alper & Emma Darwin’s Self-Editing Your Novel course last year. After the course, the students set up a writing group over WhatsApp, and we are now in almost daily contact posting articles and questions, helping each other through problems, and cheering each other on. We meet weekly on Zoom to do virtual write-ins which are brilliant for staying motivated!  JW: What have you learned since publishing your first book, and what do you feel you still have left to learn?  SL: I’ve learned so much about the industry and the editorial process through publishing my debut. Writing a novel can be lonely but once you are working with a publisher, you become part of a team. You have to let go of your darlings and appreciate that putting your book into the world is a collaborative process.  There is so much still to discover about writing and publishing, and I think I will be learning for the rest of my life!   A useful piece of advice I got in the early days was to reinvest everything you earn from your first book into developing your craft. There are some great courses out there and you might want to pay for editorial help or mentoring as you write your second book. Everything helps!   Writing a novel can be lonely but once you are working with a publisher, you become part of a team. You have to let go of your darlings and appreciate that putting your book into the world is a collaborative process. I read a lot of books about the craft of writing and I am always learning from other writers. I love attending writing festivals and have found the move to digital has meant this has become much more accessible. This year, for the first time, I attended Bloody Scotland (virtually!). One of the highlights was an interview with Stephen King – it was amazing to be able to hear such a legend talking about his writing (and get a glimpse of his study!). I’ve also been lucky enough to attend online events with Margaret Atwood, Philip Pullman, Tracy Chevalier, Marian Keyes, Dorothy Koomson, and other writing heroes, which wouldn’t have been possible before lockdown.   JW: What’s your best piece of advice for writers who are querying right now?   SL: Never give up on your dreams! Rejection is part of the territory of being a writer but it’s not personal. If someone doesn’t love your work, then they’re not the right person to represent you. Try to be patient and wait for ‘the one’. It may take a while to get published, and you may need to write a few books before you do, but it’s worth it in the end!   About Sarah Sarah Linley lives in Yorkshire and works as a Communications Manager for a housing charity.  Her debut novel, The Trip, was published by One More Chapter (the digital imprint of HarperCollins) in February 2020.   Her second novel, The Wedding Murders, will be published by the same publisher in February 2022.  When she is not writing, she enjoys reading and walking in the Dales.   Visit Sarah\'s website. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @linleysarah1 View The Trip on Amazon. View The Wedding Murders on Amazon.
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